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Written 23rd September 2020

Project study four

Words by Najib Sheeka

The Pears Building, Royal Free Hospital, London

Designed by Hopkins Architects, the centre houses world-class laboratory space, unique research facilities & write-up spaces for the UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation, patient accommodation and office space for the Royal Free Charity. The new facilities will improve the provision of care for patients and help to deliver an effective public outreach and engagement programme.

As structural and civil engineers, we enjoy engineering that challenges, engages, inspires and develops us. With the Pears building, our initial challenge was installing a new 12m deep basement within a complex, sloping site next to the working hospital and a Listed buildings. Our starting point on every project is to undertake thorough on-site testing and forensic archive research to uncover the potential of a site and identify risks and opportunities. Working closely with geotechnical specialists A-Squared and ground water experts OGI, we undertook extensive ground and water modelling. This enabled us to design a detailed ground water drainage system which maintains the current hydrogeology of the surrounding area, allowing water that may have become dammed by the new basement to be collected and diverted around the excavation. Through our detailed design and A-Squared’s detail ground movement analysis, we were able to demonstrate minimal impact to the surrounding Listed buildings by ensuring a maximum damage category of 0 on the Burland Scale. Working closely with contractor Willmott Dixon, we were also able to integrate our SuDS strategies into the construction sequence to both accelerate the project programme and reduce costs.

The building itself is a seven-storey structure comprising a five-storey exposed concrete frame with a two-storey steel frame above. Concrete was chosen to help achieve the exceptionally tight vibration requirements necessary for world-class laboratory facilities, with the steel frame minimising the construction depth and complying with the planning heights. Installed through the buildings’ centre, a light filled atrium has been created with a new feature staircase spanning its width. This carefully articulated space will foster interaction amongst the researchers and create a vibrant hub for clinical research at the heart of the building. Designed to achieve BREEAM Excellent, the project sensitively responds to the local character of the area and surrounding landscape.

Chris Burghes, chief executive of the Royal Free Charity:

'We have worked extremely hard to raise the funds for this vitally important research centre. Now we’ve reached this momentous point and construction work is underway. It will be a fantastic facility that will make us all proud. This project is about looking ahead to the future of healthcare and better ways of treating diseases and conditions that affect people in our local community, as well as others around the UK and the rest of the world.'

The Pears building is one of our largest healthcare projects to date. Working alongside the wider team, the complex nature of the project has greatly expanded our knowledge and technical skill within the healthcare sector.  The project is currently on-site and is due for completion by the end of the year.